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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Carlos Alberto Montaner: Brazil's Lula and Corruption
Carlos Alberto Montaner explains the long history of bribery that brought Brazil to this moment of change.

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

Very few people in Brazil think that Lula is innocent. Fewer people yet believe that the judiciary is part of a sinister group of putschists. That's only an excuse to protest against the “unfair” or “selective” persecution of the metalurgical strongman. Smaller still is the number of Brazilians willing to give Lula a pass because he profited illegally from power. Those are very few.

Lula continues to be the country's most popular politician. Most Brazilians simply don't care that Lula received an apartment in usufruct from the construction company OAS for facilitating business between that firm and Petrobrás. That is peccata minuta. Why shouldn't Lula live like a lord, his supporters ask, sotto voce?

By the same (and corrupt) rule of three, the legions of Justicialist Party supporters in Argentina care little that Perón, the Kirchners or Carlos Menem stole shamelessly from the nation's vaults. That's something that happens in all American countries, with the partial exception of Chile, Uruguay and Costa Rica, where tolerance of peculation is at a minimum.

In Cuba, the National Assembly of the People's Power (the Parliament, known as “The Havana Boys Choir” because of its perfect tuning for half a century, without a single flub) gave Fidel Castro a luxury yacht so he could practice underwater fishing, along with some 50 official residences that he accumulated during his long life, including a hunting preserve such as medieval kings owned.

What many people expected from Lula was not that he be honest but that he “did things,” that he reduce poverty, that he distribute property and provide services to the needy. Because he ruled during an expansive and voracious period of importation from China, and because he did not reject the social guidelines drawn by his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Lula was able to lift 30 million of his compatriots from misery.

Argentine essayist Juan Bautista Alberdi attributed to the Roman tradition the propensity to bribery demonstrated by the Latins. In Rome, Alberdi supposed, nobody knew exactly what was Caesar's and what wasn't. The consuls and emperors combined in their august persons their own and the nation's property. (That is why Alberdi proposed to populate Argentina with Anglo-Saxons and rejected the Hispanic-Latinos.)

I remember the story of the Swedish social-democratic leader Monica Sahlin. It happened in the mid 1990s. At the time, she was a pleasant, attractive woman. Everybody expected her to become head of government. Her shining political career derailed when it was learned that she had used her government credit card to buy Toblerone chocolate bars and a 50-dollar dress. She had to apologize, pay a large fine and remain several years away from political activities. She returned to the public arena but -- because of that episode -- never became prime minister.

Still, it is very possible that the work of the judiciary is changing the traditional forms of behavior. Everything began in Italy in 1992, when prosecutor Antonio di Pietro launched Tangentopoli, an operation intended to clean up the nation's public life that ended up liquidating the political class.

In Brazil, judge Sergio Moro has done more or less the same with Operation Lava Jato, pushing Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff against the ropes while keeping an eye on Michel Temer, the current president. It is important that Moro succeed. Without honesty, in the long run the State will sink.

Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest book is the novel A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected."


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